Conservatives, Social Media, and the Need to Adapt | Mark Corea
If you have spent more than a minute on political Twitter, Reddit, or other social media sites, you will have found yourself in an echo-chamber of left-wing illiberalism, ‘cancellations’, and horrible political takes. Though this owes in part to the demographics on these sites, which are dominated by young, metropolitan lefties, it is also the fault of algorithms ingrained into these sites, designed to drag us into an echo-chamber and claw at our attention spans until they fade into oblivion.
The Internet, though it is one of mankind’s greatest creations, has given rise to the 24-hour news cycle. But with more and more of our political discourse taking place on social media, it seems that we are heading towards a 24-minute news cycle. I do not think that this is inherently a bad thing – personally, I have been exposed to countless stories that would not be widely publicised in mainstream media, such as pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, atrocities committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese government, and many more.
But it is certainly inherently unconservative. Conservatives have an innate desire to hesitate, to rationalise, and pursue incremental change where it can be proven to be beneficial. We do not seek to encourage online vigilantism, ‘cancel’ people because we disagree with their political views, or shame companies into adopting politically correct strategies.
It is not just the offputtingly vocal lefties on Twitter that are to blame. There are certainly those on the right who a finger could be pointed at. But much of the blame also lies with the mainstream media. A fall in profits has led media to pursue polarising stories, in order to manufacture outrage and gain clicks. You only have to go to the front page of the Guardian, or the Sun to see this in action.
It is not surprising to see that the Reuters Institute at Oxford University found that just 28% of British people trust the news overall, down from 40% in 2019. It is important that the void left by people losing trust in mainstream media does not get filled by social media platforms. Not just for conservatives, but for our society as a whole. Far too many people (39% as per the Reuters Institute report) declared social media as their main news source. How will rational arguments and ideas from both right and left be spread to people if their main source of news comes from platforms which inherently favour outrage over substance?
I do not want to sound too defeatist, as there is still a silver lining. The distrust in mainstream and social media by the silent rational majority, which spans both right and left, has sparked a massive increase in alternative forms of media, such as podcasts. Ofcom reported that 1 in 8 people listened to podcasts in 2019, a rise of 24% from 2018, and there is no doubt this has risen even more in 2020. Podcasts are a great source of information, and their long-form design allows people to understand issues in depth with perspectives from those on all sides of the political spectrum. They can give conservatives a platform to show that we are not racist, misogynistic, or xenophobic, as we are often painted.
I think we also need to encourage reading more, as the National Literacy Trust in March found that children were reading at the lowest rates they ever recorded. There is really nothing that can parallel books for gaining knowledge, and as a society we need to encourage people to read more, both at a community level and from the Department of Education.
Moreover, the Spectator announced record subscription levels of 96,817 in October, as did the Telegraph, of 522,000 in September – if more and more of the public are inclined to pay for quality journalism, perhaps we can avoid the possibility of our society being dumbed down by manipulative algorithms and rambling activists on social media. I hope this trend continues, or we will see a generation of young people that can only communicate in 280-character tweets.